INTERVIEW: Matthew Ryan


“I heard Chris Rock once say that his comedy came from profound sensitivity,” Matthew Ryan tells me during a recent career-spanning interview. “That if he didn’t find comedy he would not be able to deal with what he believed to be his ability to feel what people around him were feeling. And I really identify with that.”

Ryan, a Pennsylvania-based singer-songwriter who has spent the last two decades inspiring countless songwriters with his distinctive vocals as a forefather of the alt-country scene, privately struggled with that sense of identity for years.

“I’ve spent a really long part of my career so far being paralyzed by my sensitivity,” he says. “I’m not saying that there weren’t good songs written or there weren’t good recordings made but I couldn’t quite stand by or tolerate what I was feeling once the work was outside of myself. So I followed that mode for a very long time — too long. It started on my second record, and it didn’t end until Boxers.”

Boxers, his 12th proper studio album, came out in 2014 but by his own account seemed his most unlikely of albums, if only because he’d intended his 11th to be his last. “With Boxers my choices were simple because the record before was, by design, planned to be my last record,” he explains. “I didn’t want to do it anymore. [But] something happened between In the Dusk of Everything and Boxers where I decided that I had to stand by my work in a way that felt more like redemption rather than some form of … I don’t know if I can describe it. But I think the difference is that in some ways I rediscovered the commitment to my work and my characters that I had on my very first record, that I hadn’t had for a very long time.”

Ryan’s currently on the road for his Fall tour, built of a mix of house concerts and venue shows throughout the eastern half of the country. One of those will be a Friday night house show right here on Indy’s north-side, in Carmel.

“Generally what I do is in towns where I maybe had a hard time growing over the years it makes more sense to do a house show,” he says. “Indianapolis traditionally has been a tough city for me, to be honest. But what’s funny is I have some really good long-time listeners and supporters there, so that’s one of the beautiful things about today. Listeners will open up their homes to let you not only have that experience, but to help you continue to do what you do.”

After two decades in the business and a dozen albums, one thing Matthew Ryan has plenty of is experience, and on both sides of the coin, as a major label signee and an independent. That, he says, can be a double-edged sword, though he insists there’s little mystery in why he’s remained inspired to create albums which differ from each other throughout his career.

“I don’t know where I got the idea that that was important, as an artist, but it’s not a shell game! You know what I mean?” he laughs. “It’s just trying to locate weather that feels right to songs that have presented themselves, and it’s really not ‘one size fits all’. But that’s definitely been … I wouldn’t call it an issue, but I can’t think of anything more boring than [insert voice here] to the same record over and over. That sounds like a sentence of solitary confinement.”

Isolation comes up frequently in conversation, particularly when discussing the one song he wishes he could take another crack at recording.

“I have never re-recorded a song, because I rarely have any interest in retreading things,” he told me. “But there’s one song that haunts me, and that’s because I really think it’s one of the best songs I’ve written but I don’t know that the presentation allowed it to be what it could be. And that’s “All That Means Nothing Now” on my album I Recall Standing As Though Nothing Could Fall. It’s frustrating, because the guitar part on that song is so sturdy, and usually I’m such a utilitarian player, I wish I would have let that be more of a spine for the song. Plus I was self-recording at the time. That was really invigorating when I did Dear Lover but by the time I got halfway through I Recall Standing I started kind of hating myself quite a bit. It was a very lonely experience. I can’t see me ever wanting to do it again.”

I ask him if it’s a lonely experience recording alone because of the lack of someone to bounce ideas off of.

“Even just the non-verbal stuff,” he elaborates. “When you feel that ignition switch go on between a group of people, it’s not even necessarily about propping each other up but the sensation of being in a room with people when something special happens. Not to be crude, though it is crude … it’s the difference between masturbation and sex! Rarely do you get done masturbating and say ‘wow, you did a great job! Great finish!’ I think loneliness is becoming an epidemic, particularly here in the West, as we isolate ourselves more and more in technology. And I kind of felt like with I Recall Standing that’s where I hit a wall very quickly with my relationship with technology. I was spending so many hours confronting one-self through a screen. I was like ‘there’s something wrong here, I do not feel more alive through this process!’”

As someone who has worked to hone his live performance as a way of connecting with audiences and encouraging two-way communication, Ryan says he finds it to be disconcerting how much of a distraction our technological devices have become at live shows.

“I’ll be honest with you — I hate it,” he says. “every once in a while I’ll check, especially if I asked when I played a new song ‘please don’t upload it,’ and people upload it. That kind of rubs me the wrong way, because I’m trying to share something with the people in a room. This isn’t a broadcast! And it never translates, man. It never translates. Please! Just put the phone down and let’s feel something together. I don’t say this as an attention-whore. I’m not even all that comfortable with an audience’s attention anyway! What I don’t understand is why people feel so compelled to remove themselves from the experience, as if they’re gonna save the experience for later. I don’t think people realize the conflict of energies when you participate in something like that.”

He chooses to focus on what he can do, which is encourage those people at a live performance to remain open for that sense of community and connection.

“It’s a funny thing, because when I watch a performance of somebody else I can be moved by what a performer is doing,” he explains. “But what moves me more is when I see an audience member moved, when I see them helpless with something that has been moved in them. That’s just true of my experience. You can’t go into a situation thinking of ways to move people, but I can look for those moments where we all collectively feel something. And there is a difference.”

ALBUM REVIEW: Tracksuit Lyfestile – “E=MC Hammered”




When I covered the finals of this year’s Battle Royale at Birdy’s, I was impressed to see that the much-vaunted Tracksuit Lyfestile lived up to all the musical hype. “An instrumental combo featuring trombone distorted through a varied set of live FX pedals, the band brought a hard rock edge to what is still a highly experimental sound,” I wrote at the time in NUVO. Combining tight metal guitar riffs with adventurous experiments in instrumental looping built upon, among other things, live trombone, makes a Tracksuit Lyfestile show something to behold.

The same holds true when listening to the band’s debut E=MC Hammered, though listeners should certainly knock their expectations up a notch as the level of musicianship is impeccable. Headphone listening at its best, Tracksuit Lyfestile encourages you to rock the fuck out at a live show, and then sit back and pick the music down to its bare elements at home, reveling in how they build these acid soundscapes.


Tracksuit Lyfestile live at Birdy’s during the Battle Royale Finals (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)


From the opening build of “Hurricane” the music grabs your attention, and then the band holds it through the little things; the “Hey! Hey! Hey!” choruses of “90/10,” the thundering wall-of-sound that is “Lunar Lounge,” and the crowd-pleasing “Beat It” cover being stand-outs. By the time they place us back gently on the ground with the staccato crunch and intricately melodic “A Vigorous Joe Pesci,” a return visit is a foregone conclusion. Just as soon as one can get online to find the band’s ‘Band In Town’ page, that is, because once you’re hooked you’ll want to see them live just to know for sure it isn’t just a bunch of studio trickery.

I assure you, it isn’t. Tracksuit Lyfestile is the most original band I’ve heard come out of the Indianpolis scene since I’ve moved here — call them the Cake of Naptown; they’ll inspire many, but few will be able to outright copy them. And that’s a very good thing!

The band will release the brand new album E=MC Hammered at the Melody Inn on july 15th with support from Moxxie, Coup d’Etat and Midwest State of Mind! Not many better spots to catch a live band in any city …. and for only $5!

Shane Owens proves “Country Never Goes Out Of Style,” gets Randy Travis’ nod of approval


I hear a lot of country music these days, but it only rarely takes me back to the country I grew up on — the Randy Travis, Keith Whitley, John Anderson school of neo-traditionalist twang that dominated before Garth Brooks ushered in the era of pop/rock country. I can tell you, though, I’m keeping both ears out for new information on Shane Owens, a songwriter whose latest single “Country Never Goes Out Of Style” has earned the legendary Travis’ seal of approval. His appearance in Owens’ video for the song is his first in a music video since his stroke in 2013.

“Shane brings it all…vocal, writing, performance, and passion,” Travis said in a recent press release. “He has paid his dues, remained committed to traditional country and brings you a song with a heart and a story.”

Owens spent more than a decade on the fringes of the country universe, indeed paying his dues while playing country nightclubs throughout the south, before back-to-back record deals fell through due to labels folding. The sense is he had the chance to season these songs through those hard times on the road and by tasting failure in Music City, so the resulting album Where I’m Comin’ From — produced by another country legend, former ACM Producer of the Year James Stroud — bears all the earmarks of a potential winner.

“This new song means so much to me,” explains Owens. “It really talks about the way I was raised and the way I live my life today, so it means so much to have Randy join me in the video and talk about my music in that way. It was truly an honor.”

You can see the video below:

THE BEST KIND OF COMPLICATED: James McMurtry’s latest, Complicated Game, a worthy listen

We grew up hard and our children don’t know what that means
We turned into our parents before we were out of our teens
Through a series of Chevy’s and Fords
And the occasional spin ’round the floor at the Copper Canteen

Nobody paints a lyrical picture of modern American life better than James McMurtry, who has the balls to open his first album in six years with the positively brilliant lyric “Honey, don’t you be yelling at me when I’m cleaning my gun; I’ll wash the blood off the tailgate when deer season’s done.” This is the man who wrote the searingly honest “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore” about the “WalMart”ification of American life, as well as the beautiful “Ruby and Carlos” off Just Us Kids, the perfect love song about the honest love most people experience rather than the Hallmark-style tripe we’re frequently force-fed.

According to a great interview in Rolling Stone Country, McMurty still takes his work seriously enough that he regrets how most fans misinterpreted his song “Cheney’s Toy”:

“People thought that I was saying that the soldiers were Cheney’s toys — I was saying Bush was Cheney’s toy. There were clues like Cheney saying, ‘You’re the man,’ to Bush to pump up his ego, so he’d go out and sell his politics, which I read in the New York Times. Not everybody reads the New York Times it turns out.”

Willing to admit that he erred in making such a polarizing song anchor the album as a single, he’s chosen to focus Complicated Game, his latest album, on songs tied to real people living real lives. And he’s taken on vocal coaching, apparently, which has given his road-weary vocals even more power.

I’m still digging into the album, but so far I hear no reason to suspect McMurtry’s voice is anywhere near wearing out, nor that his lyrics risk losing relevance. Check out “How’m I Gonna Find You Now” below — his latest single echoes back to the frantic vocal percussion of the fan-favorite “Chocktaw Bingo” in its lyrical Molotov cocktail of American experience.

Three decades into a career with no limits, McMurtry’s proving yet again that he’s the best kind of complicated. And Complicated Game is well worth making an appointment to play.

THE LIVE WIRE: Against The Clocks – “Top Floor”


Rockville, Ind.’s Against The Clocks perform during Birdy’s Battle Royale. They won, advancing to perform again in April. (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

When you come from a small town, sometimes half the battle is explaining to fans where your band got its start without having to resort to pulling out the Google Maps app. Against The Clocks, based in tiny Rockville, Indiana, will dispose of that problem when their new album, 47872, comes out hopefully this March. With any luck the album will put them and the town squarely on the musical map, because what this band offers is an ear-catching blend of classic rock and modern pop, heavy on the keyboards and the hooks you won’t find anywhere else.

With two keyboard players sharing vocal duties, the band really hits the ground running, merging the big melodies of Journey with the rock aesthetic of the Allman Brothers, adding the hooks and production smarts of a guy like Ryan Tedder. Everything comes out in the mix to create juicy pop music you’ll want to have on repeat all summer.

The band performed their song “Top Floor” at Birdy’s Battle Royale in Indianapolis this past Friday, winning their competitive round and advancing to perform again this coming April. You’ll want to be there when they do, but you can enjoy the video below. This is the only place to hear the entire song until the band releases 47872 later this spring!



Indianapolis’ The Venom Cure perform at Birdy’s Live during week three of 2015’s Battle Royale. (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

Though we may have to wait a few weeks to know whether they’ll sneak into the next round of Birdy’s Battle Royale, due to an incredibly close score during the overall voting, there’s nothing keeping you from backing the Venom Cure, clearly a band to watch in the region. Hailing from Indianapolis, this band blends the best of 80’s glam-tinged stadium rock with the deft arrangements of symphonic metal to create a show you’ll want to see more than once. The band has been working the local scene since 2009, drawing comparisons to bands as disparate as Bon Jovi and Queensryche.

Though they had to adjust their performance on the fly due to tech elements not working within the venue’s audio parameters, the band responded admirably. Lead vocalist Steve Nicolas was the quintessential frontman, working the crowd like a pro while the entire band stepped up to the challenge by giving the strongest overall performance of the night, the close crowd vote nonwithstanding. And drummer Jimmy Whetstone’s perfectionist performance ethic was evident in an individual performance which was particularly fun to watch.

I’m told they’ll have another local gig at the Emerson Theater in March — as soon as I have more information I’ll post it here, hopefully along with an interview. Until then, enjoy videos of “Flood” and “Orphan Song” from their Birdy’s performance, both of which can be found on the band’s EP On The Other Side Pt 1. Here’s hoping they make it through to that Wild-Card Round in April!


THE VENOM CURE – “Orphan Song”


Nashville rockers JEFF The Brotherhood are ready at last to release their follow-up to 2012’s Hypnotic Nights! Whether the three-year wait was worth it remains to be heard, since as of yet the only new track I’ve heard is “What’s A Creep” (posted below). But the new album Wasted On The Dream was co-produced by Jake and Jamin Orrall with Joe Chiccarelli, who has produced many of my favorite records including the Raconteurs’ Consolers of the Lonely and the White Stripes’ Icky Thump, as well as several classic albums from seminal Mexican garage band Cafe Tacuba. So I have high confidence that this album is going to have more than enough raw rock to get people excited about the state of 2015’s new music. As the band states in a recent press release:

Wasted on the Dream is the first JEFF The Brotherhood album to showcase the band’s recent evolution into a full-blown ROCK outfit: Jake plays six-string guitar (as opposed to his custom-made signature 3-string model), Jamin plays a full kit and Jack Lawrence (of Dead Weather and Raconteurs fame) plays bass on the entire album. The album also features guest contributions from Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast, Diarrhea Planet guitarists Evan Bird and Emmett Miller, and a flute solo by Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. To accommodate their bigger sound live, JEFF has expanded to a highly voluminous, balls-out twin guitar monster of a quartet.

The album drops March 10th, and will include the following tracks:

  1. Voyage Into Dream
  2. Black Cherry Pie
  3. Cosmic Visions
  4. Mystified Minds
  5. Melting Place
  6. In My Dreams
  7. In My Mouth
  8. Karaoke, TN
  9. Coat Check Girl
  10. What’s A Creep
  11. Prairie Song